President-elect Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos, Jr. is entrusting the education portfolio, a government agency beset by numerous challenges, to his running mate and Vice President-elect Sara Duterte-Carpio when their term begins.
The Philippines, even before the pandemic, has long been in crisis. Despite having the biggest chunk of the annual budget, classrooms are still lacking, the infrastructure needed to cater to a good educational environment is moving crazy slow, and teachers don’t get paid adequately with the kind of workload that is given to them.
But in 2016, many welcomed the appointment of Leonor Briones as Secretary of the Department of Education (DepEd). Briones, a professor emeritus of the University of the Philippines Diliman’s National College of Public Administration and Governance, and lead convenor of watchdog group Social Watch Philippines, is an expert on governance and budget, and the former National Treasurer under Former President Joseph Estrada.
Many hoped that, with Briones’ expertise in budget and public policy, the Department will be headed in the right direction.
Bro. Armin Luistro, her predecessor and the chief implementer of K to 12, hailed her appointment, saying, “She brings with her a wealth of experience in public finance and administration which would be beneficial to DepEd, being the agency with the largest budget.”
Meanwhile, during her confirmation as secretary, then chairman of the Senate Education Committee, Senator Bam Aquino, calls her a true champion of education. “Based on her accomplishments alone, she is qualified for the job,” he said.
In her first few months, she said that she will take on the challenges in DepEd, including continuing to build on what Former Sec. Luistro had done, including the implementation of K to 12 “while adding her own vision, perspectives, and initiatives.”
But almost six years in, it seems that the incremental change in the department under Briones’ tutelage is being overshadowed by the full-blown crisis that is brought about by the pandemic. And it is even more frustrating, if not extremely infuriating, that her successor will be someone who has no experience in the education sector, much less an educator herself.
Sara Duterte, who initially wanted the post of Secretary of National Defense, has been appointed by Marcos to lead the education department. And while Duterte has graciously accepted the appointment, it cannot be overlooked that this is the first major disagreement between the two parties, whose coalition as everyone has noticed is hanging by a thread.
She will inherit an educational system barely on life support, with the Philippines being the only country in the whole world that has not yet physically opened its schools since the pandemic hit in March 2020. This, on top of the existing challenges, will be an uphill battle and shall require someone with the right credentials and expertise.
But Duterte, like a good soldier (at least for now), said that she’s ready to rumble. In January, she expressed her plans of requiring two-year mandatory military service for all Filipinos aged 18. She cited countries like South Korea and Israel as examples and justification for her proposition.
But unlike the two countries, the Philippines is not in a state of war. South Korea has been in an armistice agreement with North Korea and war could break out at any time, while Israel is constantly in tension with Palestine and other neighboring countries. If instilling discipline and patriotism is her primary objective, then there are myriad ways to achieve these without subjecting our youth to military training.
And although she dismissed fears of her critics that revising history is far from her plans for the department, there is no assurance of this. It is in her interest, as well as her president, to do it in order to conceal their families’ crimes from the Filipino people.
The education department is too important for someone with very little to no experience to handle it. And if the incoming administration will insist on this appointment, then it is already safe to assume that it is a lost cause already.
Marvin Joseph Ang is a news and creative writer who follows developments in politics, democracy, and popular culture. He advocates for a free press and national democracy. The views expressed are his own.
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